I was recently watching the end scene of the movie Braveheart, a movie often referenced by those in ministry to help show their ‘cool side’ that is familiar with culture, violence, and film sex scenes. As I am not in ministry, I can say, without flinching, that I watched the movie to enjoy it. And I need no platform to showcase my integrity, nor a shelter to hide my depravity. That being said, there was something that stuck out to me in the film. It wasn’t the cry of “Freedom” during Wallace’s execution. Instead, it was the line “…bleed with me.” spoken in the final scene of the film.
In our society, there remains a deep connection that men find in blood, as well as a misappropriation of the connection we ought to have through it. The ancient warrior found his identity, not through the sword, but through the balance between knowing the time to pick up his sword, while other times exchanging it for the plow.
A friend of mine who is proudly training in the Columbus Police Academy, held up a sweaty gym shirt, covered in splotches of dried blood. “Is that yours?” I asked. “Some of it.” he said with a beam of pride. As part of their training, they would be placed in boxing matches with each other. During the first exchange of blows, my friend landed a square punch into the face of his opponent, creating a waterfall of blood flowing from his nose. He said that the opponent didn’t even flinch when asked “you alright?!” and got back in the ring. He earned far more respect for stepping into the ring and painting it with his blood than if he had stepped outside to first clean himself up.
The connection shared by men as they bleed is one that our society has misappropriated. Men often bond together as brothers when they engage in disciplines that spill blood; fighting, training, manual labor, etc. However, we see a clear disconnect when men (or those who falsely bear the name) attempt to find this camaraderie by spilling blood that was not theirs to begin with. Violence and crime; the spilling of others’ blood, cannot create the same deep inner bond that is created when a man engages in activities where his own blood is spilled on the ground.
The connection gained through the trigger pull of a bullet into a victims head is not far removed from the false connection gained when a young man engages in violent video games; gaining the feeling that he is closer to becoming the warrior on screen, or somehow more violent and dangerous than he actually is. Rather than develop the warrior heart inside of the child, he creates a persona and image that will never leave the glass prison of the television. This ultimately creates an inner man that is far more comfortable living through the glass, as the dangerous and fearful warrior that becomes the hero, level after level, than stepping outside of the living room and facing his true reality.
Artificial creation of manhood is quite dangerous, as the heart of a man cannot be replicated or cheaply manufactured. In The Red Badge of Courage we watch as the main character slowly transforms into the warrior he was meant to be; evolving from a coward; too frightened to fight in battle, to being described “like a tiger” in the final chapters as he fired his rifle, round after round, until it glowed white with heat, searing flesh while falling many enemies. When the battle was over, he had earned his “red badge of courage” and paid the price for it. This badge could not have been replicated by creating a self-inflicted wound for the sake of bleeding. Instead, it was something to be earned, fought for, and ultimately won.